One of the things that sets humans apart from all other species is our ability for high-level and abstract thought. Since about five weeks gestation, when we are no more than the size of a strawberry seed, our brains started developing and learning. Intellectual wellness is built into our genes.
Intelligence begins long before birth.
Our brains are plastic, meaning they are always capable of change. (1) We can learn new things no matter our age, and it is always possible to change our minds or develop new thought patterns. In fact, the opportunity to grow in our intellectual life is what keeps us mentally flexible, creative, and feeling young.
A Rich Intellectual Life Is One of the Joys of Being Human
Being creative, solving complex problems, discovering new ideas or ways of thinking. These are all things that require robust intellectual health.
Anyone who has worked a job that did not engage them intellectually can testify to the draining effect it has on happiness and motivation. When our minds are not challenged, it is easy to feel stagnant and uninspired.
Intellectual health is critical to our feelings of well-being and an important part of functioning as a whole person.
Education Is Essential, but It’s Not the Only Way to Intellectual Wellness
Attending school is an easy, built in way to tend to the mind’s need for information and expansive thinking.
“Education teaches a person to use his or her mind: Learning, thinking, reasoning, solving problems, and so on are mental exercises that may keep the central nervous system in shape the same way that physical exercise keeps the body in shape.” (2)
Higher levels of education are associated with better health, higher income and financial security, and a longer life expectancy. (3)
Once formal schooling ends, however, our minds still need activities that involve learning, creativity and exposure to new things. This may mean picking up new hobbies, reading stimulating books, or surrounding ourselves with friends who challenge our thinking.
Building our intellectual health is an activity that should continue throughout our entire lives.
If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t.
The Mind Is Not a Machine
The comparison of our brains to computers is common but much too simplistic. It denies all the complexities we still don’t understand including the mystery of our mind as both an entity separate from our brain yet also indistinguishable from it. Science continues to explore the basis of intelligence and admits there is so much still to learn.
While the brain retains a sense of mystery, what we need to know is not a secret. If we care well for this fundamental piece of ourselves, we are caring for the foundation of good health.